1917 Woods Dual Power: the first hybrid car

The first gasoline hybrid electric car came out not in 1983, but in 1917. The Woods Dual Power was built by the Woods Motor Vehicle Company of Chicago. Because the gas engine was so crude but provided more power and electric cars were smoother but had limited range, Woods Motor Vehicle Company wanted to supply a car that would give it the best of both worlds.

The best part is that it was a full hybrid (listen to GM) with regenerative braking. The engine was a parallel hybrid that included a 12 hp 4-cylinder gasoline engine as an auxiliary transmission system in addition to the electric drive train. The electric motor could propel the car up to 20 mph. Along with the gasoline engine, the dual wood power could reach up to 35mph.

The gasoline engine and the electric motor were connected by a magnetic clutch. The gasoline engine became magnetized when activated (via a lever controlled by the driver). The copper disk was pulled against the flywheel that connected the electric motor with the gasoline engine.

Only the electric motor can be used when going in reverse. Why? Because the engine did not have a clutch and therefore the gasoline engine did not have gears!

The car battery designed for this car was about half the size of batteries in other electric cars of the time. Once the car reached 20 mph, the gas engine could kick in, allowing the electric motor and gas engine to work together. The battery can be recharged or discharged with another lever. Recharging was done with the gasoline engine (at speeds above 6 mph) or by braking on flat ground or going down hills. A conventional brake pedal was only used at speeds under 6 mph.

Available for just $2650 (remember this was 1917). Wire wheels were a luxury and cost $25 more. Or you could ‘pimp’ your vehicle for another $100 (paint and trim).

In the end, the first hybrid was a commercial failure. It was built only in 1917 and 1918. It was too expensive, too slow, and too difficult to maintain to be a commercial success.

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